Shaikha Al Qassemi joins the league of Crossfit and Weightlifting athletes who find gain in pain. She shares with Yasmeen Maqbool what makes her unstoppable in her choice of career and passion
Beneath her flawless skin and a physique that is a little over 5 feet, lives a spirited 27-year-old Emirati girl who is building on her wealth of fitness knowledge, experience and a whole lot of strength. She is doing what she does, not to compete or to be the No.1, but because she loves the sport, and wants to inspire others.
Over the last three years being a Crossfit athlete and Level 1 Crossfit coach from Sharjah, Shaikha has built a fan club of Emirati girls and women who are inspired to lead a healthy lifestyle and motivate them to set achievable goals.
Though sports has enthused her, Shaikha did not always want to be an athlete. “Growing up with my brother and boy cousins, I was mostly a tomboy most of my life. I enjoyed roller-blading, playing with cars, riding buggies and kick-boxing.” She looked up to her father as her role model and wanted to be just like him, a business mogul. She studied PR and Advertising and hoped to open her own PR and advertising firm. But sitting on a chair for long hours was not something that excited her and knew that this wasn’t what she was meant to do. On being introduced to Crossfit by a friend, she found herself investing all her energy into it and the outcome was ‘greatness’.
“However, a major turning point in my athletic career was after my first win at the weekly Dubai Fitness Championship local competition. I had secured the 1st position and was extremely excited to take my fitness to the next level to learn what else I was capable of. A few days later I met with a car accident, when a mini bus driver turned into my lane and crashed head-on. After numerous doctors’ visits and a surgery, I thought I was on the road to recovery. Little did I know that what remained to battle was mentally as well as emotionally perplexing.”
Having to live through a set back right at the peak of her performance shattered her. “But I am grateful to my doctor and physiotherapist for helping me get through it and ensure that I emerge as a stronger athlete than what I was.”
It is at trying times as these that a stronger individual emerges. What then helps you steer through is the attitude you frame your life in. “I believe when you have faith in yourself, and put positive energy in what you do, it reflects in your attitude and in your life.”
Shaikha recalls that she had started her journey in Crossfit while looking up to international athletes, believing that she was not capable of doing the same but still strived to excel at it. “When I began reaching every goal I set my mind to, and realized what my body was capable of, I wanted to inspire and motivate other women in the UAE too.”
She is confident that women can be strong, beautiful and still be lady like. Building muscles to lift weights doesn’t make one bulky or manly. “And, that anything is possible when you put your mind to it, for dreams remain dreams if you are fearful of chasing after them. Making them into reality is the only road to actualization and realisation.”
However, the toughest challenge that she faced personally when she first started was the fear of failure. “I have always been afraid of failure, it wasn’t something new to me. I just needed to replace that with something positive to be able to reach my goal. Socially it was very hard when I first started. It still is, when I have to explain to people why I spend so much time in the gym or why I train so hard or so much. I was once asked, ‘and then what…? You will train, compete, ok… and then what?’ I found it to be the most offensive question I have ever been asked.”
Being a Crossfit athlete is a passion and her dream. “People will always question what they don’t understand, but I decided not to be obligated to help them understand it.” In 2014, she met with a life coach to guide her through her journey, without whose help and guidance she wouldn’t be where she is today. “Currently, my only challenge is my mental toughness and grinding through workouts.”
Choosing to share her journey on social media is the most apt media platform to reach out, she believes. “When I decided to publicly share my life, it was a daring step for me. It is uncommon for Arab women to post pictures and videos of themselves working out or lifting weights. But the more that I put out, the more love and support I received. In fact it motivated me as much as it motivated others.”
Being recognized and acknowledged for being the inspiration to many now pursuing a healthy lifestyle encourages Shaikha to keep chasing after her goal too. “Nothing is more rewarding than hearing that I have helped initiate a change in a person’s life.”
When asked what diet plan she follows, Shaikha details, “For the first two years in Crossfit, I tested what my body reacts to better and how it helps with my performance, recovery and physical build.” At the moment she follows Nourishing Dubai, which is gluten and dairy free ‘Paleo’ gourmet meal delivery service. “I have had trouble sleeping and recovering lately, and dropping my fat percentage too. It has helped me get closer to my goal faster in three weeks. I also take my supplements every month to keep me recovered.”
Photographs by: Sarfaraz Ali Photography